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Farewell to Sparky!

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Farewell to Sparky!


 Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky

It is my sad duty to report that Sparky, my partner and mushroom hunting companion has passed away. It has taken me several months to be able to write about this. He was a joyful, happy companion. Sparky had a wonderful personality. He was engaging to everyone he met. He loved to play and always had a smile on his face. He attracted people. The stick was his way of communicating. He would drop it at your feet and begin talking to you with his eyes. You learned quickly what he wanted. Throw that stick.

As a puppy, he entertained himself by the hours chasing birds, treeing raccoon’s and running the fence line with the neighboring horses. Many times I saw the horses come up the the fence and initiate the chase with Sparky. He always obliged. It was with great joy he lived his life. He was renowned for his gentleness with everyone, particularly children.

As my mushroom partner, Sparky was an asset. He always kept track of me and anyone who was in our group while in the woods. He made people at ease going into the forest. His presence gave confidence and led to success.

Sparky died as he lived right to the very end. He began to have difficulty with breathing this summer once the weather became very hot weather. It did not like the 100 degree temperatures and became increasingly uncomfortable. Despite my best efforts at making Sparky comfortable, he succumb to a hidden heart problem. His last day was, however, a good one for both of us. It was Sunday, July 12, 2015. By early afternoon, he had drank some broth and water. I asked him did he want to go for a car ride. He immediately jumped up and smiled, You Betcha! I led him out to my truck and opened the door. I wasn’t sure he would be able to get in but he jumped right up into his seat. We drove out to my friend, Peggy’s, 30 acre farm  that Sparky had spent many days. We got out and walked around the gardens and fields. Sparky did his dog thing, smelling and greeting the other dogs there. After a couple of couple of hours we went into the house. Sparky laid down and Peggy and I chatted. After about 1/2 an hour or so, I said “Where is Sparky?”. I could see him but I wanted to let him know I was thinking about him. He looked up and spotted me. He slowly got up and walked into the adjoining room. He found one of his favorite “squeaky” toys. We followed him in the room. He was squeaking the toy and then gave it to Peggy who squeaked a couple of times and gave it back to Sparky.

What happened next, happened very quickly. Sparky had the toy in his mouth. Suddenly, he dropped and just keeled over toward his left side. As he did, his legs stretched out and he let out a low howl followed by a short yip. By this time both Peggy and I were holding him and talking to him. It was thus that Sparky died at home surrounded by those who loved him. It was over in 10-15 seconds. I would like to think the final yip was him saying goodbye. May I be so fortunate!

Today, Sparky can be seen as a shadow still playing with the birds, squirrels, other dogs and raccoon’s on Peggy’s farm. He has a beautiful view of Goat Mt and sleeps beneath the maple, chestnut and oak trees. May he rest in peace.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #9 – Fire Starters

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Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky

Sparky’s Tip of the Week #9 – Fire Starters

Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights.

Sparky has been on a hiatus of late. He has been in rehab for some undisclosed injuries. It’s hard work being a working dog. We wish him the best. He seems to be in top form again.

Fire starters are one of the essential pieces of equipment you should always carry when venturing out into the great outdoors. If you get lost (which will be covered in a future Tip of the Week) or injured and unable to walk out, making a fire in any weather is a key to survival and being rescued.

Whether you are going to an outdoor store or looking online for fire starters there appears to a plethora of products you can purchase. Sparky, the dog will guide you to what is really necessary to carry. The mail order online stores such as REI, Cabela’s & LL Bean have numerous items available priced from under $2 to $59.99.

Sparky’s recommendations: If you have been reading Sparky’s tips, you know he goes for functional, low cost and efficient. You need two things to start a fire: fuel and heat source.


For fuel: REI has several inexpensive items to choose.

Steve's wax lint firestarter

Steve’s wax lint fire starter

Fire starters made at home for free using old candles, string, used fabric softener sheet and dryer lint. Place lint in softener sheet, use string to tie into a ball. Use an egg carton and place the ball of lint in the egg holder. Melt the old candles or paraffin wax in an old saucepan. Pour the liquid wax over the lint balls soaking it and let dry. Place a couple of waxed balls in a small container with a cover in your backpack or pocket. They should burn for at least 15 minutes, long enough to get even damp kindling burning.

UCO Survival Matches

For a heat source: REI has several UCO brand survival matches. Some can be submerged in water and light. They are very useful in our typically wet autumn, winter and spring weather.

Sparky says: If you want a real adventure, join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #7 – Outdoor Clothes

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #7 – Outdoor Clothes

Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky


Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights. And now some more timely Tips from Sparky.

This is tough subject for Sparky to discuss because he is not much of fashion icon. He only has one coat and he has had it since birth. Consequently, he has asked me to share some of my thoughts. I will start from the bottom up.

Shoes: Shoes maybe the most important item in terms of comfort and safety. Often when in the forest in the autumn on Mt Hood it is raining or as we like to say ‘dumping on us with liquid sunshine’. Be that as it may, you need knobby or lug sole that do not slip for safety. Waterproofness is a real bonus to comfort. Ankle support is beneficial climbing over blown down trees and uneven ground.

Rubber boots

Rubber boots can keep you dry but they offer little or no support.

Rain gear: Do you want day in the woods to be a short miserable trip or an all day blast walking in the rain finding many golden treasures. Even if it is not raining, the foliage is often wet because it just stopped raining. If don’t have rain gear, you will soon be soaked to the bone.


Rain gear

Gloves: I could write a book about this topic. I must have twenty different kinds of gloves for different jobs and occasions. I have cotton, leather, rubber, coated cotton, rubber-dipped cotton, gardening, dress, winter, GORE-TEX ®, nitrite gloves, fingerless, wool, and more.


Work gloves

Hats: This is another favorite subject and everyone has an opinion. I used hats with wide brims all the way around and a chinstrap if in heavy brush. I use wool in the winter, cotton in spring & summer.


Wool hat and scarf

Pants: In dry weather, denim cotton is fine but in wet weather, you are miserable and subject to hypothermia. Wool pants are good but heavy. We live in a blessed time with many new synthetic fabrics that resist water and wear as well as being lightweight.

Shirts: Stay away from cotton except in the warmer weather. Synthetic fabrics are better and dry faster.

Underwear: Do not forget this important piece of personal equipment. Again stay away from cotton. It is comfortable to wear in the warm summer weather but not in the fall and winter when you will be exerting yourself and sweating. Having wet clothes next to you skin tends to cool your body. Not a good idea when it is cold and wet outside.


Sparky’s recommendations: Dogs have it made in the shade. When they get wet, they just shake the water off….on me. Stay away from cotton fabrics as much as possible, including underwear. There is wonderful wicking and quick drying clothes fabrics available today. Invest in your comfort and safety.

Boots: get leather boots with lug soles and waterproof the heck out of them. It works!

Outdoor boots

Rain Gear: GORE-TEX ® is great stuff and lightweight. GORE-TEX ® waterproofing needs to be renewed occasionally.

Official Gore-Tex® Label

Gloves: get cheap nitrite gloves at the pharmacy because it will protect your fingers and keep them warm plus get fingerless wool gloves to put over the nitrite gloves to keep your hands warm. Wool even when wet will keep your hands warm. Using the combination keeps your hands warm, protected and dry but allows good tactile dexterity to touch and feel.

Hats: Whatever works for you works for me. I use an old Pendleton felt wool hat with wide brim in wet weather. It keeps my head warm and dry. In the warmer, dryer weather, I found this hat at the Army surplus store. It is a camouflage hat with brim to keep the sun off my neck for $3.50.

My Winter Hat

Cameo Hat






Pants: After years of looking for the perfect pants, I found in L.L.Bean catalog the upland briar pants. They have a GORE-TEX

version that is perfect for fall and winter excursions into the forest.

Shirts:  Use synthetic fabric; my preference is for Patagonia brand clothes. Much of what I have, I purchased I have used continuously for over 23 years and it still look almost new. Amazing clothes!

Underwear: Find wicking synthetic fabric underwear. It is available today in short and longjohn versions. It can be found in your better quality outdoors stores, like REI and Patagonia

Sparky Says: Use synthetic fabrics as much as possible to wick away moisture from your skin. Wool is a second best. With cotton fabrics, you will not often notice the wetness until you have to stop. When wet a chill followed by hypothermia. This can happen very quickly. Proper clothes are very important for personal safety. One mistake could be fatal.

Sparky says: join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #4 – GPS Receivers

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           Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky

Sparky’s Tip of the Week #4 – GPS Receivers

Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights.

GPS Receivers

GPS Receivers are high tech equipment commonly used in car, boats, cell phones and hand held units. The value of the GPS Receivers is to give real time location within 10 feet 95% of the time using a network of 24 orbiting satellite. In urban area, GPS units are usually very functional.

You can choose from many different models of GPS Receivers. They can be loaded with either road maps or topographical maps or both. If you are going off-trail, topographical maps are recommended.

Here is some common features on GPS Receivers

  1. Tracking waypoints & routes
  2. Built in memory
  3. Camera & video
  4. Water resistance
  5. Barometric altimeter
  6. Wireless communication
  7. Tracker/Satellite messaging units
  8. Adding additional maps

When choosing a GPS Receivers you must consider what your main purpose is; off-trail or road or both.

Sparky’s recommendations: If you have been reading Sparky’s recommendations, you know by now to stay away for all the bells & whistles. Get a unit that will do exactly what you want to do. That is to get you from point A to B and back again. Make sure it is loaded with road & topographical maps of where you want to go. Units are generally not preloaded with topographical maps. If you are a road hunter, you may not need topographical maps.

The best thing about GPS Receivers is you still need a map and compass. Yup! That’s right. If you batteries fail or you are unable to get a signal because of tree cover, sunspot interference or you are at the bottom of a canyon, what good are GPS Receivers? You are probably going to have to take a class to learn how to best use your GPS Receivers units.

Bottom line is if you like playing with new technology, get one of these units. If you want to find your way around the wood and make it back home, stick with the reliable analog baseplate compass. Take a map & compass class; it will be much more useful.  For more info on compasses, see Sparky’s Tip of the Week #1.

Additional note: Many smart phones include GPS apps but these do not offer the same mapping and route planning capabilities as entry-level GPS Receivers.

Expect to pay $89 to $600 at any good outdoor store like REI, Cabellas, L. L. Bean.

Sparky says: join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #1 – Compasses

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Sparky’s Tips

Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights

Sparky’s Tip of the Week #1 – Compasses

If you are heading off to the forest without a guide, you need a good compass—your life may depend on it. Walking through the forest is not the same as walking down the street in a city. There are no signposts and often no trails. If it is cloudy or raining, direction becomes difficult to impossible to figure out. Your only means of direction is using your compass. Wear your compass on a lanyard around your neck so it is easy to find and use. Lanyards are easy to find at an outdoor store.

Compass—What to look for:

  • Bezel degree intervals—compasses with needle use a magnetized needle that aligns with the earth’s magnetic field. The bezel outer ring is mark in degrees from 0 °-360 ° degrees.
  • Liquid filled—for a steady needle to allow precise compass readings.
  • There are other optional features to get with your compass depending upon your budget.
    • Declination adjustment
    • Ruler
    • Map scales
    • Luminous needle and bezel ring
    • Clinometers
    • Sighting mirror
    • Global needle—for use in the Southern Hemisphere




Compass—What you do not need:

  • Combination compasses with whistle and mirrors or any other accessory are useless – unless you want to explore your fenced backyard. These compasses are too small to be practicable and the whistles are not loud enough to hear unless you are standing next to the person who is blowing it. If you want a compass and whistle, purchase them separately and get good quality. Your life may depend upon them.




What do you really need?

Sparky says you need a big enough baseplate compass that has large readable Bezel degree intervals and a directional arrow. Liquid filled is a bonus. All the other option, bell & whistles are wonderful but not necessary. My Boy Scout compass that I have used for over 50 years is not liquid filled and works great.  Expect to pay $14 and up. Any good outdoor store                                                like REI, Cabella’s, L. L. Bean

Baseplate Compass

Take a basic navigation class, too. Having a compass on you will do you no good if you do not know how to use it. You are just as lost as if you did not have one. In addition, you can get your 15 minutes of fame on local TV News when the Search & Rescue people have to find you.

Sparky’s says Steve at ToursWithSteve.com teaches basic compass navigation before heading out into the forest. Click here to get a brochure e-mailed to you.


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3 Things to look for when hunting wild edible morel mushrooms on Mt Hood

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1. Weather—what has the weather been like? Warm, cool, rainy or dry will encourage or discourage fungi mycelium growth. What I look for is a wet period followed by a warm, dry weather spell.  A good website for weather is: Weather Underground http://www.wunderground.com/ 

2.  Habitat—morel mushrooms they can grow virtually anywhere.  They can grow solitary, in groups, scattered along the edge of woods, in burns, in urban areas, in bare soil, intermixed with groundcovers, along railroad tracks, orchards, paths, under leaves, under logs, under brush piles, in grassy areas, in shade, in sun, in part shade. You get the idea! Pretty much wherever they darn well please.

Morel habitat

3.  Identification of true morel—true morels have hollow cap and stem with the cap intergrown with the stem.  If they have solid like or cottony pith centers in the stem, or the cap is not attached to the stem, or no stem they can be Verpa, Gyromitra or Hevella.  It is generally not recommended to eat these genera. If eaten it should be done with caution. They are, in any case, much less tasty than true morels (Morchella)















True Morel with hollow center


If you want to learn how to identify wild morel mushrooms, call Steve at TourWithSteve.com and join one of our foraging tours into the wilds of Mt Hood.

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3 Things To Do With Your Morels

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After you have gone into the woods, worked and sweated all day locating your treasured morel mushrooms, what are you going to do with them? Here are three suggestions of what to do with your morels:

1.  You are probably not going to like morels, so I will volunteer to take these unwanted orphans off your hands. In my heart of hearts, I want to help you through this distressing time. Donations are willingly and gratefully accepted.

2. So, you did not fall for that one. Try drying them so you can rehydrate them next autumn when morel season is a dream and you want to relive your adventure tour with Steve on Mt. Hood. Use a dehydrator to dry your morels and store them in an airtight container until you are ready to use them.  Then simply take a handful of dried mushroom, put into a bowl of lukewarm water until re-hydrated and then cook.  On a serious note: Morels need to be thoroughly cooked before eating. Never eat wild mushrooms raw.

Morels on trays ready for dehydrator







3. My favorite way to use morels is in an omelet or scrambled eggs. As noted above, cook morel first before adding to dishes.

Egg & cheese omelet with morel mushrooms







If you want to learn about wild morel mushrooms, call Steve at TourWithSteve.com and join one of our foraging tours into the wilds of Mt Hood.

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Albertina’s Restaurant Chefs’ Dinner featuring Oregon Truffles

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On Thursday January 12, 2012, Albertina’s Restaurant in Portland hosted a Chefs’ Dinner featuring Oregon Truffles. Yours truly provided the Oregon Black Truffle (Leucangium carthusianum) for this event.

It was an outstanding five course dinner paired with some amazing wines from Lejon Wine Cellars.

This was a leisurely event interspace with delicious food, paired wines to each dish and great conversations. The food course were as follows:
Chilled Lobster Salad—with endive truffle marmalade with Lujon Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Gris ‘09

with endive truffle marmalade


Ham Three Ways—Tuna prosciutto, Iberian ham and smoked duck ham with Lujon Cellars Columbia Valley Red Blend ‘09

Tuna prosciutto, Iberian ham and smoked duck ham

Pear Vanilla Granita—to clean the palette (yummy)

Truffle Crusted Halibut—with red and golden beets and purple carrots paired with Lujon Cellars Spofford Station Vineyard Syrah ‘08

with red and golden beets and purple carrots paired

Elk Osso Bucco—with mushroom duxelle ravioli, shaved truffle cheese and fresh shaved black truffle paired with Lujon Cellars Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon ‘08

with mushroom duxelle ravioli, shaved truffle cheese and fresh shaved black truffle

Salt and Straw Truffle Ice Cream—salted caramel powder and sesame crisp for dessert. (sorry no picture, it looked and smelled so good I neglected to take a picture)

Chefs included:
Alex Diomis—executive chef at Albertina’s Restaurant www.AlbertinaKerr.org
Brian Landry—executive chef at Bamboo Sushi, Portland
Kit Zhu—Prairie Creek Farm and executive chef
Kim and Tyler Malek—Salt and Straw ice cream show featuring cold creations
Wines provided by John Derthick of Lujon Wine Cellars, visit www.lujonwinecellars.com
At the conclusion of dinner, Steve gave a short talk about truffle hunting, ethical and sustainable collecting practice and answered questions.

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Hunting mushrooms in the Mt Hood National Forest is always an adventure. I am often asked how do you know where to find mushrooms?
How do I find mushrooms? Do I look for a particular soil type? Do I look for certain trees? Is it about ground covers? Do I follow animal trails? Is the calendar the key? Do I consult with a psychic or have clairvoyant abilities? Is a sunny day better than a rainy day?
Well, I am going to let you in on my secret. Do not tell anyone. It is none of the above. It’s my dog.

Sparky awaiting his job orders

Now Sparky, my dog, is no ordinary dog. He is a border collie. If you know anything about the breed, he is a working dog.

Sparky at full speed!

In fact, he will outwork any working dog around. Sparky is a black and white blur running around in the woods.

Sparky Hunting

Yep! He is my secret weapon in find those elusive fungi. He can cover more ground in five minutes than a herd of pickers in a week. He learned very quickly the technique of how to pick mushrooms. Sadly, he does leave some jagged edges on the mushroom stems from his teeth but I can usually fix those deficiencies in nothing flat.

Sparky retrieving

I know what you are thinking. How much will it cost you to buy my dog? Don’t even think about it. I’ve been offered over ten thousand dollars for him already. Read my lips: Sparky is not for sale even at ten times that price. Or!
If you want to see Sparky in action, then join us for a mushroom adventure tour .

Sparky, "The Wonder Dog!"

Seeing is believing!!

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Hunting for Wild Mushrooms on Mt. Hood

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I have been thinking about doing a MT. Hood mushroom adventure tour for some time now.  It finally rained the past weekend and that is good news. The weather has been so nice of late….for sun bathing, boating, hiking, camping, and picking blueberries—but not very good for mushroom hunting. The forest is prime for huckleberries picking right now, especially above 4,000 ft elevation. It has been one of the best seasons in recent years. I saw hillsides covered in huckleberries last weekend.
I always seem to get itchy this time of the year to go hunting, hunting for mushrooms. I actually found my first autumn fungi on August 31 this year.  I found two edibles, Chanterelle and Sulfur Shelf or Chicken of the Woods mushrooms. The Sulfur Shelf is only good when very young and tender. This was. I had never tried cooking and eating it before. It was good. I made up a new wild mushroom recipe to cook it, which I will post later. Of course, I found several other species of mushroom but none of them was edible. The autumn mushrooms are starting later this year because of the late starting spring and summer. It seems everything is 2-3 weeks late this year. I expect this to be a good mushroom season once it gets started.
Here are some ideas for you if you ever wanted to know more about those elusive funguses growing in the forest, come join our small group tours for a fun tour and fungus finds.

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